Kurdish "Land Grabs" Anger Sunni Arabs

The peshmerga’s offensives in Diyala, Kirkuk and western Mosul are particularly confrontational because they expand the Kurdish presence into areas outside the Kurdistan Region and considered part of Iraq by all Arab Iraqis.

Indeed, Iraqi Kurds consider these territories as rightfully belonging to the Kurdistan Region and are taking steps to consolidate their control. Some Kurdish officials have publicly affirmed that the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) will not give back these territories and “never ever let Arabs control them again.”

To secure the territories, the Kurdish peshmerga are organizing special minority group militias under the control of the KRG's Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs, including Kurdish Shabak peshmerga forces, Kurdish Yazidi peshmerga forces and Kurdish Assyrian peshmerga forces.

By expanding its territorial borders, the KRG may hope to leverage its nationalist demands in Baghdad. In fact, current political conditions leave the Iraqi government little opportunity to retaliate. The ISF cannot effectively push back the Kurdish peshmerga, the KRG has Western military support and Baghdad is cooperating with the KRG in the anti-IS campaign. Both sides are also financially stressed and relying on a temporary oil deal to mitigate their economic morass.

The security problem, however, is not whether Baghdad can thwart Kurdish territorial expansionism. In the weak and hyper-fragmented Iraqi state under IS threat, Kurdish unilateral land grabs directly challenge the aims of disenfranchised Sunni Arabs who seek greater autonomy and their own region, and who remain committed to Iraq’s territorial boundaries.

These actions also place Iraqi Kurds in direct confrontation — once again — with Sunni Arabs who largely populate northern Iraq, alongside minority groups. Many regard these territories as the homeland of Sunni Arab nationalism and Sunni Islam in Iraq. Assyrians consider the Ninevah plains as their own heartland and not necessarily Kurdish territory or belonging to the KRG.

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